Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Paget, William (1505-1563)

PAGET, WILLIAM, first Baron Paget of Beaudesert (1505–1563), born in 1505, at Wednesbury it is said, was son of William Paget, a sergeant-at-mace of the city of London. His father was connected with an old Staffordshire family, but this seems to have been discovered after Paget's death, and his low birth was often objected to by the courtiers. He was educated at St. Paul's School under William Lily [q. v.], and at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, presumably during the mastership of Stephen Gardiner [q. v.] He must have given early proof of his ability, for he was one of those supported at the university by members of the Boleyn family. He is said, while at Cambridge, to have been an earnest protestant, to have distributed books by Luther and other Germans, and to have read Melanchthon's ‘Rhetoric’ openly in Trinity Hall (Strype, Memorials, I. i. 430). But it is not probable that he was earnest in matters of religion at any time, and it is not likely that Gardiner, who, as Wolsey's secretary, had been engaged in persecuting heretics in 1526, would have allowed any protestant lecturing to go on in his college. He does not seem to have taken any degree at Cambridge, but he remained a good friend to the university, of which he was afterwards high steward. In 1547, when involved in a dispute with the townspeople, the university appealed to him for help (Strype, Cranmer, p. 238), and this no doubt was the occasion of his being appointed, in February 1547–8, a commissioner to settle the matter. He was also, in November 1548, appointed one of the visitors of the university, and was present at the disputation in the summer of 1549, when Grindal, then a young man, argued about transubstantiation (Strype, Grindal, p. 6, and Cheke, p. 40).

On leaving the university he was taken into the household of Gardiner, who sent him to study in Paris for a time, and received him again when he returned. In 1528 he was ill of the plague. In 1529, obviously through Gardiner's influence, he was sent to France to collect opinions from the universities on the subject of the divorce. In 1532 he became clerk of the signet, and the same year was sent out to furnish Cranmer, then ambassador to the emperor, with instructions as to what Henry was prepared to do against the Turks who had recently invaded Hungary (Strype, Cranmer, p. 16). A few months later he appears to have been sent on a mission to the elector of Saxony, and in 1534 he was again abroad to confer with the protestant princes of Germany (for his instructions see Letters and Papers, Henry VIII, vi. 148). He went by way of France to Germany in 1537 with Christopher Mont [q. v.] to induce the Smalcaldic league to reject the pope's overtures. On 18 Oct. 1537 he was knighted. When the marriage with Anne of Cleves had been arranged, Paget, who could no doubt speak German, was appointed her secretary in 1539. On 10 Aug. 1540 he was sworn in as clerk to the privy council (Acts of the Privy Council, vii. 4), and in the same year his office of clerk of the signet was secured to him for life. On 1 June 1541 he had a grant of arms. On 24 Sept. 1541 he was sent as an ambassador to France in order to perform the delicate service of explaining the sudden fall of Catherine Howard, but he seems to have given satisfaction, as on 13 Dec. 1541 the council increased his emoluments by ten shillings a day (ib. vii. 268, 283, 352). He was promoted on his return, becoming a privy councillor and one of the secretaries of state on 23 April 1543, and clerk of parliament on 19 May 1543; he now resigned his clerkship to the privy council.

As secretary of state Paget was brought into very close relations with the king, and for the closing years of the reign he and the Earl of Hertford, to whom he strongly attached himself, were probably Henry's chief advisers. On 26 June 1544 Paget, Wriothesley, and Suffolk were commissioned to treat with the Earl of Lennox as to Scottish affairs and the marriage of Lennox with Margaret, the king's niece. He went to Boulogne with the king in the same year, and took part in the subsequent negotiations, and with John (afterwards Sir John) Mason [q. v.] he received the office of master of the posts within and without the realm. In 1545 he took part in the new negotiations with the German protestants. He made Edward, prince of Wales, a present of a sandbox in 1546, and was one of those who visited Anne Askew [q. v.] in the Tower, and tried to change her opinions. As Henry grew older, he relied greatly on Paget. He consulted him about his will, left him 300l., and appointed him one of the governors of the young prince during his minority. Just before and just after Henry's death on 28 Jan. 1546–1547, Hertford had conferences with Paget (Strype, Memorials, ii. i. 17), and Paget gave him advice which Hertford declined to follow. Three days after Henry's death he read aloud part of Henry's will in parliament, and he played the leading part in the plot formed to set it aside (cf. Dixon, Hist. of Church of England, iii. 392).

In the new reign Paget appears as the friend of the Protector, but he inclined to courses of greater moderation. He proposed a protectorate in the council. He had evidently carefully considered the state of England, and wrote to Somerset that for the time there was no religion in the country. His state paper on the foreign relations of England, written for the instruction of the council, also shows how well he could explain his views (it is printed in Strype's Memorials, ii. i. 87). His own position at once improved. He was made K.G. on 17 Feb. 1546–7, comptroller of the king's household, on 4 March 1546–7 a commissioner for determining the boundaries of Boulogne, and on 1 July 1547 chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. His friendship for Somerset declared itself in several letters of warning as to the policy he was pursuing; one, dated 8 May 1549, forms Cotton MS. Tit. F. 3. On 8 May 1549 he was a commissioner to visit Oxford University, but he was not in favour of rigorous measures against the catholics. When the heresy commissions were issued, he disapproved, telling Somerset that to alter the state of a nation would take ten years' deliberation. Hence he gladly set off in June to Brussels to try and persuade the emperor to join with the English in an attack on France (cf. Strype, Memorials, ii. i. 242–9). He was respected at the emperor's court; but the tumults in England, upon which he had a difficulty in placing a satisfactory construction, prevented anything from being done. A curious conversation, in which he took part, in the course of the negotiations respecting the prerogative of the French crown as compared with that of England or Germany, has been preserved (ib. p. 150). He advised a firmer course with the rebels than that which the Protector had taken, although his own brother was a leader in the western rising (cf. Dixon, Hist. of Church of England, iii. 63–4). His negotiation with the emperor closed the same year, and he wrote a remarkable letter to Sir William Petre [q. v.] (‘Alas, Mr. Secretary, we must not think that heaven is here, but that we live in a world’) explaining his failure.

Paget, as a friend of Somerset, suffered a good deal for his sake. He remained with him during the revolution of October 1549, but none the less he was in communication with the lords of the opposite party, and showed them how Somerset might be captured (ib. iii. 153). On 3 Dec. 1549 he was created Baron Paget of Beaudesert, Staffordshire (Lords' Journals, i. 365). John Burcher, writing to Bullinger, 12 Dec. 1549, said he had been made president of Wales (3 Zurich Letters, p. 661); he also gained the London house of the bishop of Exeter, and other lands besides, but ceased to be comptroller. In January 1549–50 he had a commission to treat with the king of France. He was a witness against Gardiner in December, and Gardiner reproached him with having ‘neglected honour, faith, and honesty,’ and with having ‘shown himself of ingrate malice, desirous to hinder his former teacher and tutor, his former master and benefactor, to whom he owed his first advancement.’ In May 1551 he was appointed one of the lords-lieutenant for Staffordshire and Middlesex.

Paget had incurred the hatred of Warwick, who feared him, and the party opposed to Somerset hoped to ruin Paget and the Protector together. He was arrested and committed to the Fleet on 21 Oct. 1551 on a charge of conspiring against Warwick's life, but was removed to the Tower on 8 Nov. The charge was absurd. The murder was to have been carried out at Paget's house. But Paget had taken the part of the council against Somerset in many things; he had rebuked him for courting popularity, and he knew his weakness far too well to join in any such adventure with him. This probably every one recognised. Action was consequently taken against Paget on another ground. He had resigned his comptrollership when made a peer, but had kept his other appointments. He was now degraded from the order of the Garter, on 22 April 1552, on the ground of insufficient birth, really in order that he might make room for Lord Guilford Dudley. His accounts as chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster were inquired into, and he was found to have made large profits at the expense of the crown. On 16 June 1552 he was charged with his offences before the court of Star-chamber, and confessed, as he had already done before the council. It seems that he had sold timber for his own profit, and taken fines on renewing and granting leases. He was fined 6,000l., and all his lands and goods were placed at the king's disposal; Sir John Gates succeeded him in the chancellorship of the duchy, and the other courtiers hoped for a share in the spoils. John Ponet [q. v.] wrote tauntingly afterwards: ‘But what at length becommeth of our practising P.? He is committed to ward, his Garter with shame pulled from his legge, his Robe from his backe, his Coat Armour pulled downe, spurned out of Windsor Church, trod underfoot,’ &c. (Treatise of Politique Power, ed. 1642, p. 64). But Paget was able to extricate himself from his difficulties. He had been ordered to go down into Staffordshire, but, urging his own health and that of his wife, was allowed to stay in London from June till Michaelmas 1552. In December a pardon was granted to him for all excepting crown debts, and he was allowed to compound for his fine. In April 1553 a part of the amount still due from him was remitted, and he was again received into favour.

At the death of Edward he joined Queen Jane's council. He signed the letter to Lord Rich on 19 July 1553, exhorting him to be firm in her cause; but he probably acted under compulsion, as on 20 June he sanctioned the proclamation of Queen Mary in London, and with Arundel set off to bring her thither. He conducted Northumberland from Cambridge to the Tower, became one of Mary's privy council, took, with his wife, a prominent part in the coronation, and was restored to the Garter on 27 Sept. 1553. He was commissioned to treat as to the queen's marriage in March 1553–4, and was entrusted with large discretionary powers. He resisted Wyatt, and Strype seems right in suggesting that at heart he was a Roman catholic (cf. Dixon, Hist. of the Church of England, iv. 162). He would not, however, agree to either the bill which made it treason to take arms against the queen's husband or that directed against heretics, nor would he agree to exclude Elizabeth from the succession, as Gardiner suggested; he thereby, for a time, incurred the ill-will of the queen and of Gardiner, and it was proposed to imprison him. The fact probably was that he was of tolerant disposition, and, although he afterwards showed some inclination to accept the persecuting policy (cf. ib. p. 171) and sat on a heresy commission in January 1554–5, he argued for very gentle measures of repression. In August 1554 the high stewardship of Cambridge University, which had been taken from him at Mary's accession, was restored to him. He, Sir Edward Hastings, and Sir Edward Cecil went to Brussels in November 1554 to conduct Cardinal Pole to London on his mission of reconciliation.

With Philip, Paget was in high favour, and, after Gardiner's death in November 1555, Philip strongly urged Mary to appoint him chancellor in Gardiner's place. But Mary refused, on the ground that he was a layman, and Heath succeeded to the office [see Mary I]. Paget, however, was made lord privy seal on 29 Jan. 1555–6. In 1556, being at Brussels with King Philip, he is said to have planned the seizure of Sir John Cheke [q. v.] and Sir Peter Carew, which resulted in Cheke's recantation (see Strype, Cheke, p. 108, who relies on Ponet; but cf. Dixon, iv. 609). He formed one of an embassy to France in May 1556. Anne of Cleves, at her death on 17 July 1557, left him a ring. At Elizabeth's accession, according to Cooper, he desired to continue in office, but he had retired from the council in November 1558, and he ceased to be lord privy seal in favour of Sir Nicholas Bacon at the beginning of the new reign. He certainly gave Elizabeth advice on one or two occasions. Paget died on 9 June 1563 at West Drayton House, Middlesex, and was buried at West Drayton. A monument was erected to his memory in Lichfield Cathedral. A portrait by Holbein was in 1890 in the possession of the Duke of Manchester, and has been several times engraved. His common-place book was said to be, in 1818, in the possession of Lord Boston. Paget was a man of ability without much character. He was careful of his estate; Richard Coxe [q. v.] complained to him of the general rapacity of the courtiers with some reason, though he may not have been worse than the other courtiers of Edward VI. In Henry VIII's time he had many grants (cf. Dep.-Keeper of Publ. Records, App. ii. 10th Rep. p. 247) and bought church lands (cf. Tanner). The chief grant he secured was that of Beaudesert in Staffordshire, which has since been the chief seat of the family which he founded. He married Anne, daughter and heiress of Henry Preston, who came of a Westmoreland family, and by her left four sons. Henry, the eldest, was made a knight of the Bath at Mary's coronation; married Catherine, daughter of Sir Henry Knevet of Buckenham, Norfolk, and had a daughter Elizabeth, who died young. He succeeded his father, and, dying in 1568, was succeeded by his brother Thomas, third baron Paget [q. v.] Charles, the third son of the first baron, is also separately noticed.

[Strype's Works, passim; Dixon's Hist. of the Church of Engl. i. 155, &c.; Parker Soc. Publ. (references in Gough's Index); Cooper's Athenæ Cantabr. i. 221; State Papers, Henry VIII; Acts of the Privy Council, vol. vii, and ed. Dasent, 1542–58; Letters and Papers, Henry VIII; Cal. State Papers, For. Ser. 1547–53; Nicolas's Privy Purse Expenses of Princess Mary, p. 254; Lit. Remains of Edward VI (Roxb. Club), pp. lxxviii. &c.; Staffordshire Collections, VI. ii. 14, ix. 100–1, xii. 194; Testamenta Vetusta, pp. 42–3; Shaw's Staffordshire, p. 212; Simms's Bibliotheca Staffordiensis, p. 342; Narratives of the Reformation, p. 139, Machyn's Diary, p. 10, &c., Services of Lord Grey of Wilton, p. 4, Chron. of Queen Jane and Queen Mary, pp. 27, &c., Trevelyan Papers, ii. 11, Troubles connected with the Prayer Book of 1549, pp. 54, &c., all in the Camden Soc.; Tytler's Edw. VI, i. 241; Lloyd's State Worthies, p. 99; Burke's Peerage, p. 37; Gentleman's Mag. 1818, i. 119; Froude's Hist. of Engl. v. 2, &c., vi. 30, vii. 18, &c.]

W. A. J. A.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.213
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

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60 ii 2f.e. Paget, William, 1st Baron Paget: for The morning after read Three days after
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